Sure, it’s been a while since my last Oscar post, so call it cheating, but some things have been shaken up since. In fact, I’m feeling with the onset of Flight mania, my Best Picture and Best Lead Actor posts are probably obsolete. Though at least I have my Best Lead Actress post to keep me comfortable – though there’s probably some obvious misstep in there too. Luckily I took a look at the early reviews for Lawless this morning, and things aren’t looking good – methinks the lovely ladies of that movie won’t be making this conversation any longer. But I digress!
The Returning Winners: In this very mixed-bag field of 2012, there are several returning winners at play, including Annette Be – oh wait… wishful thinking I suppose. But in all seriousness, we have a few professional Oscar gals in the competition. For starters, there are the already-released Maggie Smith as the ornery wheelchair-bound senior in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Frances McDormand as the kooky mother and secret paramour in Moonrise Kingdom. Neither lady has caused a major stir, per se, but neither can ever be counted out and both were a part of sleeper hits.
Then there are a few coming up rather quickly down the pipe. Last year’s champ Octavia Spencer may have a questionably small role in the addiction drama Smashed, but the move has gotten some positive festival feedback and Sony Pictures backing, so who knows? Then there’s Holly Hunter, who based on the trailer probably has a plum little role as an administrator in the education drama Won’t Back Down. She hasn’t really been in the conversation for about 10 years, but let’s be real – she’s definitely due. And yes, The Paperboy has received a lot of outlandish attention, but attention nonetheless. And Nicole Kidman reportedly goes for it – will the movie have any camp fans out there in voters, though?
And then there are those that will likely see a later release this year – will they have the attention to gain traction, or will their co-stars take all the glory? Vanessa Redgrave takes the title role in the British senior citizen choir flick Song for Marion, though it might be too light of fare for voters, and she couldn’t seem to buy herself a nomination for Coriolanus. Still, British comedy seems to connect a little more easily. Sally Field has an obviously key role in Lincoln, though she hasn’t really come close to a nomination since 1984’s Places in the Heart – it seems far-fetched that she’ll make a return trip. Finally, Rachel Weisz has a supporting part in Terrence Malick’s latest, but will To the Wonder be too much, too soon after Tree of Life amassed so much love last year?
Those Facing Internal Competition: Though it’s been said – I’m pretty sure – that this category is the easiest to find a double nomination from the same movie, it’s still a tough battle for any. Those ladies facing competition from within their own casts include the duo from Silver Linings Playbook, Jacki Weaver and Jennifer Lawrence, the former of which seems to have a nice role based on the trailer and the latter of whom could be a stretch in this particular love interest role. Weaver probably has the edge in this battle. Then there are the ladies from Anna Karenina, Olivia Williams and Kelly Macdonald, both of whom have had close calls with Oscars but have just missed. A lot will depend on the overall feeling about the film.
Much will definitely depend on Laura Linney’s placement, but the big biopic roles in Hyde Park on Hudson include Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt and Olivia Colman as the Queen of England. On its face, these should be easy gets for nominations, but the former Olivia seems to be catnip for Oscar voters despite several baity roles through the years in Oscar-hailed films. Perhaps the likeliest of double power players comes from the buzzy Paul Thomas Anderson flick The Master, which boasts a shoo-in nod for perennial favorite Amy Adams and a fuzzy role for previous nominees Laura Dern, though her being missing from most of the promotional material is worrisome.
Those Ladies and Their Major Motion Pictures: They aren’t plentiful, but there are a few potential contenders amongst the big budget epics and the like. Donna Bae may not be name-recognizable, but what looks like a key role in the mysterious Cloud Atlas could pay off. And Anne Hathaway looks like she could possibly walk away with the show in Les Miserables. And speaking of scene-stealing, that same Anne Hathaway pulled off the unthinkable and put her own successful spin on Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises – but are voters really as eager to nominate her for it as Heath Ledger’s slam dunk in 2008? And I can’t count her out just yet – though Sparkle hasn’t exactly had glowing reviews, most critics are willing to confess that Whitney Houston is the highlight. Could a Globe nomination be possible for the late chanteuse?
And the Rest…: As I’m running out of ways to categorize these actresses, I’m going to pile in the rest of the crop here. Jessica Chastain has made quite a wave in the past year-and-a-half, and from the looks of the teaser she might have a great performance in her in Zero Dark Thirty. But Bigelow didn’t really rake in the acting nominations for her cast in 2009, so who knows… Quvenzhane Wallis is clearly a lead for Beasts of the Southern Wild, but her age deficiency will likely tempt the studio to push her here. Pauline Collins hasn’t been around in earnest since Shirley Valentine, but a nice supporting turn in Albert Nobbs helped put her back on the map – will she be one of the Weinsteins’ pushes for Quartet? And my beloved Annette Bening must be mentioned – playing girl-of-the-moment Kristen Wiig’s mom in Imogene could be just the move she needs to make real progress toward that long-awaited Oscar.
And the current barrage of buzz is unavoidable – Ann Dowd is clearly making some surprising waves as a woman with ill intentions in indie drama Compliance. Whether or not she’ll have the support to make it to the red carpet is still up in the air, but it’s hard to deny her web support. Helena Bonham Carter does well with Oscar when it comes to costume drama, and the most notable role in Great Expectations certainly shouldn’t hurt. Kerry Washington has what seems to be the sole female role in Tarantino’s Django Unchained (unusual when you think about it), and the director has a history of doing well with female thespians. Isabelle Huppert rounds out a cast of foreign lovelies in Amour, and Carey Mulligan guns for her second nod in the Coens’ music pic Inside Llewyn Davis. Kristin Scott Thomas has been itching for her second as well, this time with the Refn Drive follow-up Only God Forgives. And, sure, a strange way to end this, but if Take This Waltz gets any kind of attention elsewhere, Sarah Silverman must be mentioned – her critical response has been generally positive, and the move could have some good home video surge late in the year.
So here’s where I’m at currently: Amy Adams (The Master), Helena Bonham Carter (Great Expectations), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Olivia Williams (Hyde Park on Hudson)
Well, unlike the Best Picture and Lead Actress races, the competition for Best Lead Actor is a little dodgy thus far. In fact, there seems to be nary a remote contender in sight as we head into August. Have we ever seen an acting category this back-nine-loaded? There will surely be dozens of possibilities later this year, but the first section of this write-up will certainly be a bit of a stretch as far as naming off real “contenders.” And with arguable frontrunner Leonardo DiCaprio out of the race along with the rest of The Great Gatsby, these guys are dropping to 2013 like flies. (Perhaps you all can shed some light on potential threats from the first seven months of the year.)
Long Shots – Do They Even Stand a Chance?: Well with July behind us, you’d think there’d be some clear spring and summer releases producing some Best Actor choices, but there are only two that I can remotely endorse as a possibility. Sure, Oscar isn’t nearly as kind to young actors as it is to young actresses, but Jared Gilman has at least started the 2012 conversation for his deadpan turn in the hit Moonrise Kingdom. Contending with the older guys in this category is near impossible, though. And if it’d had a better release, perhaps Detachment could’ve granted Adrien Brody his long-gestating second Oscar nod. Alas, the film, which garnered some positive reviews, came and went without much fanfare despite a strong cast.
Indie Contenders – Trifles or Heavyweights?: Every year the independent film community produces some potential nominees in the acting categories, though it seems Lead Actor isn’t always the place where these folks strike it rich. Nonetheless, John Hawkes is a major part of the conversation for The Sessions (nee The Surrogate) and is well on his way to a second Oscar nod. Perhaps not as certain are Frank Langella, for his well-received role in the quirky robot buddy comedy Robot and Frank, and David Oyelowo, who’s been logging away a widening filmography and had a role in festival fave Middle of Nowhere. In addition, seemingly Oscar catnip Richard Gere found some fans from the financial thriller Arbitrage.
Honor the Film or Honor the Actor?: There are plenty of pieces, namely ensemble films and epics, that constantly create question marks as to whether or not the actors themselves will get any love. First off, there’s Lawless, which seems to have two leads, Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy. There’s a pedigreed cast here to be sure, but neither have had much luck in the past, and this film could easily go by way of Public Enemies and completely miss. In the same position is Ben Affleck, who is a true contender for directing Argo but perhaps not for acting. He also has a shot if To the Wonder sees a release this year. Tom Hanks is no stranger to this category but has certainly lost some of his cache. Still, he’s the biggest name out of Cloud Atlas, but how actorly the movie is remains to be seen. Finally, The Hobbit will surely produce a multitude of tech awards, but we all remember how stingy Oscar was with Lord of the Rings’ actors. Will Martin Freeman break through with the title role?
The Arguable Frontrunners: On its face, there are some men in play that seem to have the director backing, the Oscar history and the strong buzz to go the distance. Brad Pitt has become somewhat of a fixture into his middle ages, and Killing Them Softly could be a promising prospect. (Does anyone else see him possibly gaining George Clooney status soon – the automatic nomination?) The real story of this year will likely be the return of Joaquin Phoenix who looks to be seriously committing in The Master. His biggest hurdle may be the questionable status of Phillip Seymour Hoffman – lead or supporting? Clint Eastwood looks to get back into the good graces of the Academy starring in the baseball drama Trouble with the Curve. And perennial favorite Daniel Day-Lewis has a plum biopic role in Lincoln – but why do I keep getting the feeling it’ll fall in with J. Edgar and make voters grumble? Rounding out the group is one more strong biopic possibility, Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson (though will his hot and cold relationship with Oscar sour this one?), and Jean-Louis Trintignant for festival golden child Amour.
The Movie Stars Make Good?: There are a handful of stars with celebrity status that are looking to either enter the serious acting fold or return for some Oscar glory after a sabbatical. I’m not sold yet that Bradley Cooper could ever nab a nod, but with David O. Russell behind the picture, Silver-Linings Playbook is definitely a part of the conversation. Hugh Jackman is a strong one to break into the top five for Les Miserables, whose buzz seems incredibly strong though I’m not totally sold that it’ll deliver Academy-wise. Jamie Foxx already has an Oscar under his belt, but has stepped away for less golden pursuits – teaming up with Tarantino in Django Unchained is definitely a major step in the right direction, but will it be his movie or DiCaprio’s? Seth Rogen is starring opposite Barbra Streisand, which could be the magic touch for The Guilt Trip. It’s not totally implausible – we never thought we’d be saying Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill, did we? Finally, Colin Farrell continues his quest for Academy credibility with Seven Psychopaths. It’s easy to forget he’s had a smattering of prestige roles mixed in with the action movies – I see him eventually connecting, perhaps not this year.
Rising Stars and Possible Late Entries: Every year a few straight-up newbies or established actors looking for the break-out Oscar role enter the mix. Joel Edgerton has gained a handful of fans for his turn in Animal Kingdom, and a seemingly starring role in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty could be just the ticket. But will there be a true lead in this bin Laden flick? Suraj Sharma has the benefit of popular source material and lauded director in Life of Pi – but will it be a visual affair more than a performance one? Oscar Isaac has been threatening to break out for a few years, and a starring role in the Coen Bros.’ Inside Llewyn Davis could do it. It just needs a solidified release date. Jeremy Irvine made waves last year in War Horse but didn’t see much for award hardware. Perhaps the latest adaptation of Great Expectations will do the trick. Ryan Gosling has two strong roles down the pipe, Only God Forgives, the re-team with Drive director Refn, and The Place Beyond the Pines, though neither has a release date yet. And Christopher Plummer looks to follow up his long-gestating Oscar win with Barrymore, which looks to be a December release. Rounding out the possibilities are performances that will probably get limited qualifying runs, Colin Firth in the action comedy Gambit, Terrence Stamp in Song for Marion, and Ewan McGregor in sci-fi thriller The Impossible.
So who stands the best shot as of now? I’ll take a stab, in order of likelihood of a nomination:
(1) Joaquin Phoenix, The Master (2) Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln (3) Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson (4) Clint Eastwood, Trouble with the Curve (5) Brad Pitt, Killing Them Softly*
*Though I could see Hoffman and Plummer entering the race if the former goes lead and if the latter finds a solid release.
Now that the big Best Picture update is out of the way, let’s move on to the lead actresses. Though there are far less obvious contenders in the works in this category compared to the top prize, there are plentiful possibilities in the mix. But will Oscar go traditional, opting for the many costume drama options, or will it step away for more indie love than the typical one-slot-for-ingenue-in-Sundance-favorite trajectory? There are certainly no clear front-runners here, nor are there any surefire first-half contenders, but let’s muse nonetheless…
What We’ve Got So Far: Though there aren’t any clear options in the first six months, there are a handful of ladies who have turned in buzz-worthy performances. But how likely is it any of them can last through to February? For starters, we have some Academy favorites – Michelle Williams has a decent shot for Take This Waltz. Though the long-delayed film seems to have arrived with a soft response, the reviews were positive, and Michelle is on a hot streak. Plus damaged relationships propelled her to a nod for Blue Valentine. Speaking of Academy populars, Judi Dench should never be counted out, and the sleeper hit status of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel could get her some traction, particularly with a well-timed DVD release.
It was virtually invisible upon release, but The Deep Blue Sea could very well get Rachel Weisz on some shortlists. It’s certainly a long shot, but she’s one of the handful of moderate contenders from early releases. A much more hot-button choice would be Jennifer Lawrence, whose adept turn in the popular The Hunger Games is certainly not Oscar’s typical cup of tea, but the web is feeling pretty insistent about this one. Don’t count her out just yet. Resting in the long-gestating camp, Rachael Harris won raves last year for quirky drama Natural Selection, but her lack of celebrite in an increasingly competitive indie sect could dash her chances. Finally, the clearest contender from those films released thus far has to be pint-sized powerhouse Quvenzhane Wallis, whose star turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild should have no trouble finding its way onto year-end “Best of” lists. But will she be wrongfully thrust into supporting due to her age?
Will Lighter, Popcorn Fare Play a Role?: Sure, Meryl Streep has made her way onto the list with comedies before. I mean, Devil Wears Prada was very nearly a win for the actress. But will Hope Springs connect in the same way? It has the elements of a potential Streep nomination, but methinks this will go by way of It’s Complicated and suffer a near-miss. And though “light” may not be the right attribution, Won’t Back Down‘s Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal may have to ascend the hurdle of “feel-good” for their teacher drama. The trailer doesn’t look very Oscary, but who knows what could happen with Davis’s recent hot streak? And then there’s Cameron Diaz, who is seemingly out to prove why she’s a movie star by teaming up with Colin Firth and the Coen brothers for Gambit. But will an action comedy ever have decent traction in a category populated by tragic PYTs? If the reviews are right, it’s definitely possible.
But what of the indie comedies? It can be a tough sell, but with proper studio push, anything’s possible. First off is Melanie Lynskey, who has been quietly assembling a long filmography on the sidelines and finally has a leading role in Hello I Must Be Going. The film has some detractors, but she likely has a lot of friends in the industry. (Let me also take this opportunity to say that Emayatzy Corinealdi could find a place in the conversation for Middle of Nowhere.) Then there’s Helen Hunt, who hasn’t been in the conversation at all since her ’97 win in this category. Has her ill will post-Oscar ruined her shot at being nominated for The Sessions, or will John Hawkes’s recent cred push her through? Rounding out the comedic ladies, Barbra Streisand is making another return to the big screen in The Guilt Trip opposite Seth Rogen. A mother-son road trip is a bit untested, save for Transamerica I suppose, but Dan Fogelman has done some great things with Crazy Stupid Love and Tangled, so who knows?
Prestige Gals – Where the Contenders Are: Now to the serious options. The biggies and the obvious predictable choices. Not that they’re bad, necessarily, just that they’re clearly the odds-on favorites. Academy favorite Amy Adams could have a fourth nomination on her hands for father-daughter sports flick Trouble with the Curve, but voters have been hot and cold with Eastwood lately. Keira Knightley isn’t everyone’s favorite in critics’ circles, but her muse status under Joe Wright has yielded some cache. Will Anna Karenina pull off a hit, though? Laura Linney has shamefully never won, but Hyde Park on Hudson is looking mighty probably for another shot at the gold. Will she command enough presence when sharing the screen with Bill Murray though? With Cannes backing and Haneke’s stamp, Emmanuelle Riva could be a viable option for Amour. But will the Academy do what they do with many European auteurs and recognize direction and writing above acting?
No one seems to have the respected actor/beautiful movie star combination on point these days like Marion Cotillard, whose Rust and Bone performance is a definite shot at her first leading nomination since her win in ’07. And will Carey Mulligan ever find herself in the nomination pool again? She’s landed several plum roles since An Education, and what better return route than to star in The Great Gatsby? Sure, Halle Berry hasn’t connected much since Monster’s Ball, but with the insane buzz around Cloud Atlas, perhaps she can finally return to the fold of the few and the proud. Maggie Smith has stayed relevant through the years, but Oscar has eluded her since 2001. Perhaps a seemingly lead role in the opera singer drama Quartet will appeal to voters. I mean, have you seen the trailer? It’s pretty clear we’ll be hearing its name at least once come nomination morning.
That’s All Well and Good, But Will it Even Release?: In every year there are the crop of serious candidates that have a giant question mark over their heads until the bitter end (See: Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs), but some of these are bound to be released in time. Kristen Wiig is fresh off of Bridesmaids heat, and the Oscars may see a chance to honor her for acting in Imogene. And if it sees the light of 2012 day, Dakota Fanning could have her coming-of-age coming out party in costume drama Effie, though a ’13 release seems more and more likely. Nicole Kidman will surely be a contender for biopic My Wild Life whenever it happens to be released, but the animal conservationist drama is taking its sweet time to finish up. Helen Mirren is always a strong possibility, and The Door could hit if it finds a distributor in time, and Rachel McAdams could perhaps break her rom-com mold thanks to fave director Terrence Malick’s tutelage in To the Wonder – and that festival scheduling makes a late-2012 release all the more likely.
So here’s where I’m at as of now, in order of likelihood of a nomination:
(1) Laura Linney, (2) Amy Adams, (3) Marion Cotillard, (4) Maggie Smith, (5) Quvenzhane Wallis
But what do you think, eh?